Trail-blazing a Corporate Attack
from No Compromise Issue 24
 

with Kevin Jonas

Kevin Jonas is the president of and a full-time volunteer with Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (USA). He is also one of the seven individuals recently indicted on federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism charges. Kevin’s activist experiences have ranged from college animal rights activism, to factory farm investigations, to volunteering as an A.L.F. spokesperson, to working on successful UK fur and vivisection campaigns. Despite the onslaught of lawsuits and attacks from the feds, Kevin took some time to talk to No Compromise and offer some perspective on the HLS campaign and grassroots activism.

NC: When and how did you get your start in animal rights activism?

It all started with a beagle named Barney. As a child, my life was enriched by my little canine companion. We shared meals and cuddles and got into trouble together. These memories of Barney began to haunt me in high school, after a friend showed me a PETA videotape exposing the use of beagles in smoking studies. As appalling and as wrong as I knew this was, I could not articulate exactly why it was wrong.

While the concept of animal rights seemed so foreign at the time, environmentalism did not. I began boycotting McDonalds because the beef used was from clear-cut rainforest lands. This boycott of McDonalds led to my giving up meat all together. In reading up about the ecological impact of my new vegetarianism, I was exposed to animal rights philosophy. After quickly devouring several books on the matter (Animal Liberation, The Case for Animal Rights, etc), what I had felt was so unconscionable about those smoking studies started to make complete sense.

The intelligence and logic of these animal rights arguments, coupled with the compassionate ethic encouraged by my beagle buddy, inspired in me a reassessment of justice and fueled my growing indignation. While attending college I quickly became involved with the Student Organization for Animal Rights (SOAR), and from there on out I really grew as a person and an activist.

NC: These days, you are known for your involvement with the SHAC campaign. Before that, what campaigns did you work on?

While working with SOAR I participated in many animal rights activities. We pushed for more vegan food in dorms, protested the circus when it came to town, locked ourselves together inside of Neiman Marcus on more than one occasion, took over the office of a primate researcher as a press stunt, and hosted many great animal rights speakers. We were the most active student group on campus during my years of higher education.

During these college years I also assisted in a handful of undercover investigations of factory farms and slaughterhouses in the Midwest. All-night drives, sloshing through shit, and recording some of the most ghastly acts of violence I wish I could forget was tough work, but they paid off as the images are now shown regularly on cable access shows and educational efforts.

I also worked as an intern with the A.L.F. Press Office, which not only got me into a bit of trouble – but also course credit, as the internship was approved by the Political Science department.

Post graduation, I spent a year in England working full time on animal rights campaigns and there really cut my teeth on some ‘true grit’ activism. I helped shut down two of London’s last few fur stores (including the furrier to the Queen), plus saw the closure of Shamrock Monkey Farm and Regal Rabbits. It was a ‘smashing’ time to be there.

NC: Your involvement with the A.L.F. Press Office in Minnesota led to a raid on your home. How did you deal with this, and did it affect your outlook on activism?

I can say this much: It seems to get easier every time they (FBI agents) come a knocking. I have always had this penchant for not being around when the police show up. Whenever the F.B.I has raided my homes in Minnesota, in New Jersey, and in the UK, they have always just missed me by an hour. Dumb luck, I guess. I dealt with it like any normal person, I suppose. I was upset and felt a bit violated, but I understood that this is the price social change activists have always had to pay.

How I viewed activism changed a lot after this, and I really began understanding the animal rights movement is a struggle. To advocate that we end the exploitation of all non-human animals means we challenge global economies, religions, fashion trends, and what our palates are trained to crave – and that’s something that we just can’t work for as a hobby, to say the least.

NC: You have been an unapologetic supporter of the A.L.F. since your days with SOAR. Why is it important for above ground activists to support the Animal Liberation Front?

We should be so proud that we can count among ourselves, ordinary people willing to risk life and limb for those of another. We should be honored our movement has a modern-day Underground Railroad. The actions the A.L.F. take symbolize to me both courage and hope that this movement is strong enough to one day succeed. Our (aboveground) support of A.L.F. actions demonstrates that we are consistent in our principles and are truly rejecting speciesism. If we thought it was right for Harriet Tubman to liberate people, for Nelson Mandela to lead an armed revolt, and for the celebrators of the Boston tea party to engage in economic sabotage, then by all means our movement has to say the same thing when these things are done in defense of animals.

A.L.F. members are selfless in their actions and are not asking for help, but because they advance our shared political cause we owe them our support. We owe it to them by means of exploiting the press attention they stir, by writing our letters of support to those who are captured, and by discussing their contributions within a proper historical context.

NC: You spent some time in England working on campaigns there. As you know, many grassroots groups in the States look to the UK as being “way ahead of us” in tactics and achievements. After campaigning on both sides of the Atlantic, what is your response to this perspective?

The U.K. certainly has had its share of major achievements and has pioneered some of the most important strategies and organizing techniques the animal rights movement has ever known, but I wouldn’t diminish through comparison what has been accomplished in the U.S.
British campaigns are incredible because they bring out people opposed to animal cruelty from all walks of life. Their issues and activism seem to be taken more seriously by the general public because it is the general public that comprises their campaigns. I wish this were the case in the U.S. and our efforts were not so youth-heavy. British direct action campaigns additionally have the luxury of a more civilized criminal justice system that prosecutes based on the crime, not the politics behind it. I feel our U.S. system unconstitutionally disadvantages those noble few who break unjust laws to help animals, but this also speaks volumes regarding the dedication of those here who go underground nonetheless.

There is a lot to be learned from the U.K. successes, and I think this has been done. SHAC is an example of U.K. strategies being exported and meeting success stateside. The U.S. also has pushed ahead where others have not. In my personal opinion the U.S. has seen the biggest and most influential A.L.F. raids, a more press-savvy approach to campaigning and influential, national organizations rising out of grassroots, direct-action based efforts (PETA, LCA, Sea Shepherd, and now SHAC).

NC: SHAC USA was started in the U.S. in 2001. At that point, how long did you see the campaign against HLS taking?

When SHAC USA first started I personally thought Huntingdon would close when Stephens, Inc. divested. The loan the Little Rock-based firm extended to the lab was all that was keeping it open. Now we know, from interviews and released records, that indeed the U.S. SHAC efforts did beat the stubborn Stephens empire into the ground, but the British government’s intervention helped HLS negotiate a refinancing and kept it alive.

Essentially, SHAC did win, only to have its victory stolen away by a major, first world government. Talk about power!

The same blow was dealt to us when SHAC beat the world’s largest insurance company, Marsh Inc, and HLS was faced with having no legally mandated, operational insurance. Again, by the corrupted grace of the British government, HLS was given the unprecedented coverage of the Department of Trade and Industry. Who says SHAC tactics don’t work?

Governmental intervention can only last so long, however, especially with the current customer campaign. It is one thing for the lab to be extended certain financial facilities?, but the government cannot force companies to contract to HLS.

NC: In your opinion, what have been some of the most effective actions against HLS and its supporters thus far?

Tough question. First of all I think what has made this campaign a success is a combination of literally thousands of demonstrations and actions. There is no single action that defines the SHAC movement, but there are certainly highlights, in my opinion. I think the October 29th ‘weekend of action’ was amazing. It combined legitimate speakers in a press-heavy, town hall meeting, the biggest home demo in U.S. animal rights history, and one of the most effective street protests this young U.S. movement has ever seen. I also thought the smoke and stink bombs that evacuated the Seattle Marsh and Stephens buildings were really effective (and funny). And of course, the liberations-- something about seeing all those Marshall Farms beagles romping around is enough to keep me going for years!

NC: SHAC USA, as well as dozens of activists and organizations, has been a target of multiple lawsuits around the country. How have you seen all the lawsuits affect the campaign against HLS?

These lawsuits have generally done exactly what those suing us have been trying to prevent. They spurred on direct action against them. Suing those who are most recognizably opposed to HLS – regardless of whether or not they may have broken any laws-- only serves to reinforce the injustice of the companies and the limits (and pitfalls) of aboveground activism. I think these SLAPP suits have done more to teach activists the importance of adopting security culture, not waiting around for the police during home demonstrations, and perhaps even foregoing above-ground demonstrations for those where you have less chance of being caught and sued.

NC: What do you see the SHAC campaign achieving, above and beyond the closure of Huntingdon Life Sciences?

In my opinion SHAC has already won and closing Huntingdon is just the formality. For three years, the SHAC campaign has gripped the U.S. animal rights movement and changed the face of grassroots activism. It has provided a refreshing and necessary alternative to animal advocacy that breaks away from the confines of sanctioned forms of social change. The campaign has been praised and it has been derided. It has been applauded for breathing life into an otherwise stagnant movement and has been criticized for its tendency to ‘steal the show.’ From its start, SHAC has been a campaign of strategy and opportunity. Its primary objective is the closure of HLS, but by no stretch of the imagination is this where the goals stop.

Believing it necessary to take risks and act boldly, SHAC has followed in the movement- building tradition of PETA as they controversially worked with the A.L.F. in exposing the horrors of vivisection, Sea Shepherd as they rammed, mined, and sunk whaling fleets across the world, and Last Chance for Animals as they literally kicked down the doors to the UCLA animal labs with a CNN camera crew. SHAC is the equally controversial, 21st century extension to what has made this movement a success.

SHAC has trail-blazed a plan of corporate attack that has left industries shaking. The uncontrollability of secondary and tertiary targeting has seen HLS lose 90% of its worth. With a footing in eighteen different countries, the SHAC campaign has globalized the movement and has brought accountability to corporations desperate to escape scrutiny and pressure. The campaign has already had a huge impact on the pharmaceutical industry, where companies like Chiron have lost over $2.5 million from the protest activity and have had their workplace culture permanently damaged for the worse.

Under the banner of SHAC, tactical ingenuity has been bred. The campaign has seen yachts sunk, office complexes evacuated, credit cards stolen, mock animal grave yards erected in front lawns, and computer activism taken to a whole new level of sophistication. Most importantly, SHAC has used the mainstream product-testing issue as its gateway drug to bring new activists to a full-blown, animal liberation addiction.

NC: Is victory on the horizon in this campaign?

Yes. It always is and there is no stopping until it’s achieved. In the meantime, we are making history with what’s being achieved.

NC: A great deal of fuss has been made about SHAC USA's tactics. Some individuals and organizations in the animal advocacy movement find the campaign's approach too controversial. Others feel it gives the movement a bad name. How do you respond to these concerns?

I really don’t care what people in the animal advocacy movement have to say. If these critics are not proud enough to call themselves animal rights activists or do not believe in animal rights, their opinions mean nothing.

Secondly, there is no such thing as ‘SHAC USA’s tactics.’ This is a campaign made up of people from all points of advocacy, engaging in everything from letters to litigation. Ninety percent of what goes on the SHAC campaign in the background is just good, ol’ fashioned, plain organizing. What grabs the most attention-- both because it is sexy and effective-- is the direct action element. This element, combined with the rest of the campaign, is doing to a lab-- really to a whole industry-- what so many of these critics have failed to do themselves. SHAC is being bold and taking risks. It is trying new things because the safe approaches are tired, boring, and guess what? They are not achieving animal liberation.

The bad name SHAC is giving the movement cannot be really considered a criticism, as at least it is giving the movement a name. PETA faces this same whining over its stunts, and I couldn’t agree more with its response: that it really cannot get much worse for animals than it is already, so if we can at least get people talking about the issue, albeit sometimes negatively, we are accomplishing something. Martin Luther King, the suffragettes, trade unions, anti-war organizers and gay rights activists have all been smeared by the press. If we start to let the likes of Fox News set our tactical agenda out of fear of displeasing them, then the animals really have no hope.

NC: You have been an outspoken advocate of controversial tactics. Do you think the change in the political atmosphere over the past few years demands a shift to softer tactics?

Nothing I personally support is controversial. The mainstream public supports what I support and a whole hell of a lot more. The public supports liberations, property destruction, arson, violence, terrorism, and war. The only difference is that the public supports it for human issues, though. It’s not the tactics that are controversial; it’s what we are fighting for. Animal liberation is the point of contention and is what needs constant debating, not the tactics. This is something I am afraid, all too many A.L.F. press officers have failed to understand.

Do I think the current political climate demands the animal rights movement shift to softer tactics? Well, considering more animals will die this year than the year before, and that this will likely be the same for next year and the year after, I should think not. “Harder” tactics don’t necessarily mean law-breaking though; it means thinking outside the box of prescribed methods we are told we can use, but that we know are not working. I don’t think you could run a SHAC-type campaign against any company in any industry. I think the SHAC campaign works because it is against HLS in this vivisection industry.